iRobot Files Lawsuits Charging Infringement on Combat Robot Patents

Commercial and military robot maker iRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT) announced today that it has filed a pair of lawsuits against a former employee and his company, claiming infringement on patents for iRobot’s PackBot military robot and misappropriation and misuse of confidential information related to the machine.

iRobot, based in Burlington, MA, filed the patent-infringement suit against Illinois-based Robotic FX in U.S. District Court and filed the confidential-information misuse suit against the company and its founder, Jameel Ahed, in Massachusetts Superior Court. Both suits focus on Robotic FX’s “Negotiator” robot, which iRobot contends is a knock-off of its PackBot, shown here. The U.S. military has used the PackBot since 2002 for reconnaissance and disabling bombs. Robotic FX bills the Negotiator as “the world’s first affordable, tactical robotic system designed to lead first-response teams.”

In an interview with’s Kris Osborn, iRobot’s Joe Dyer, president of the firm’s government and industrial division, said that Ahed “has misused iRobot information and used it to build the Negotiator. Our robots are used every day in critical life-and-death situations, and putting in an inferior knockoff was just not something we believe we could stand by and watch.”

As of noon today, Robotic FX was declining to answer questions about the lawsuits—and even to provide basic corporate information, such as the date of the company’s founding. It should be interesting to see how this one plays out.

UPDATE 21 August, 2007, 2:20 pm: Robotic FX is circulating a press release today stating that it “intends to vigorously defend itself and its founder, Jameel Ahed, against allegations made by iRobot Corporation.” The release asserts that the company sold its first Negotiator robot in July 2004 and that “iRobot’s lawsuits, filed over three years later, come during a time when the two parties are competing for a significant government contract.” The release also notes that Robotic FX is a certified participant in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 8A Business Development Program, which is designed to help small disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace and gain access to federal and private procurement markets.

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